Watch One of the Clearest, Most Helpful Explanations of Story Structure Ever

There are countless voices out there explaining various methods for unpacking your narrative. Plot points, acts, and Hero's Journeys -- so many concepts. Which one do you choose?

That's actually a bit of a trick question, because there's no one structural paradigm that wins out over the others. When it comes to screenwriting, rules and rigidity don't really translate well -- I suppose not even when it comes to structure. However, unless you're working on an avant-garde or experimental piece of cinema, having a clear structure is ideal in order to help your audience understand what's going on in your story.

And if spending another day with your nose inside a screenwriting book bums you out, take a look at this fantastic video by Darius Britt, who is quickly becoming my go-to guy when it comes to screenwriting advice. In it, he breaks down the three-act structure in its entirety, while sharing some truly enlightening tips on where to start, what to look for, and how to fix common issues.

Now, if you're staunchly against the three-act structure, I totally get it. (Though, I think this is a good starting place.) Personally, I'm agnostic when it comes to screenwriting theories; I've written scripts using a bunch of different methods, like the Hero's Journey, 3/5/7-structure, Field's plot points, even saying screw it and making stuff up as I went along. (I call that the "I don't know -- feels right" paradigm.)

However, since all of these theories helped me at some point or another, I like to think of them not as competing theories, but as -- Power Rangers. On their own, that can definitely kick some major Putty Patrol ass, but if you want to defeat Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa, you've gotta morph, baby, and join forces to become the Megazord of Screenwriting.

There's really no wrong way to write a screenplay, because at the end of the day, if this theory or that theory gets you to the point where you've completed something, then that's all that really matters. Don't let dramatic-structure fanboyism distract you from the most important thing: putting words on the page.

Now -- it's morphin' time!     

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lol a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers analogy. Nicely done.

I am a sucker for structure talk. I always love diving in and learning new things. I think your analogy works! I've taken bits and pieces of almost everything I've learned (as well as some of my own "I don't know -- feels right") and I think this sort of approach can't help but make you a better writer. The point of structure, which ever one you go with (or ultimately chose NOT to go with), is to be intentional with your writing, and I think that's the important part. Writers can be prone to wanderlust (at least I know I can be) and having a road map of some kind helps alleviate that. It's certainly important to travel from the beaten path from time to time, but marked roads are marked for a reason, and to ignore them all together is to invite trouble.

That said, my music theory professor used to say you have to learn the rules in order to break them, and that holds true in almost any form of creation. So even if you bristle at the thought of "formula", it's still important to learn those things so you can better subvert such things. There's never harm in learning.

November 12, 2014 at 6:28AM

Geoffrey Young Haney
writer & director

I'm not knocking Darious Britt, but there are far better 3 act structure videos on the web. Not a good start when you admit you're not a guru and are still learning. I'd like to learn from the learned. Great power rangers video though.

November 13, 2014 at 8:04PM


It's still valid to learn from those who are learning with you. You supplementing seasoned experience with a new perspective. Think of it as a virtual study group.

November 15, 2014 at 1:22PM


a concise, engaging & brisk summary by Mr. Britt---well done sir !

November 14, 2014 at 11:18AM

Douglas Boe

Thank you D Britt! As someone who is a novice myself when it comes to story structure, I feel like I really learned something with this short video.

My lingering question: How could there be 5 acts in a story? What would be an example of a story that did this?

November 14, 2014 at 1:12PM, Edited November 14, 1:12PM

Andy Barba
Graphic Designer / Art Director

all of shakespeare plays are 5 acts, and he had some pretty awesome stories.

November 16, 2014 at 9:57PM

Chad Hugghins

Stop posting crap from this guy!

May 7, 2015 at 9:52AM

Joe Sand
Actor, Writer, Director, Editor

To formulaic.

May 8, 2015 at 9:55AM

Jonathon Sendall


July 14, 2016 at 11:39AM


the best storytelling movies i've seen is mememto gmail correo electronico

July 14, 2016 at 8:23PM



Rudyard Kipling said he had 5 little helping words - WHO WHERE WHEN WHY WHAT HOW ?
If only a novel or screenplay had helping words. BUT THEY DO ! ! ! Would you believe they are a massive 64 concepts of help to generate a fantastic story. And here is more exciting news - you can mix these friends about to create lots of structures - yet these 64 DEEP LITERARY THEMES only go around in quads !

I have written a free ebook called - THE SIGN OF 4 - that demonstrates them. An example of a theme is PERMISSION. Characters always do things with or without permission. Opposites is also part of this theory.

We can arrange them into special groups of 16 - that are made up of 4 stages each. These stages are Blake Snyder's plot-beats or help to form the 4 acts. . .
The special groups are called CONFLICTS - HUMAN V SELF. HUMAN. ENVIRONMENT. TIME. In that special series sequence we have HEROS JOURNEY. In parallel, they can be THROUGH LINES - which are connected to archetypical characters.

A story is a perfect description of your storyworld through the 4 conflicts.
A plot is a string of literary themes - which can show scenes out of chronological order - and you still get a plot.

January 16, 2020 at 10:33AM, Edited January 16, 10:55AM